There’s an old joke that says HiFi speakers are a “forbidden hobby”, because once you get into them, it’s hard to get out. You’ll be willing to invest so much extra time and money into your new hobby in your pursuit of audio perfection. KEF has consistently delivered on this front, and as a result, has amassed incredible brand loyalty since it first began over 60 years ago.
KEF is the UK’s leading HiFi speaker brand. Its wireless all-in-one speaker systems have received international acclaim from across the world. What’s the secret to being recognised in such a competitive industry?
Our listeners are serious about sharing the magic of great sound with the rest of the world. Raymond Cooke, our founder, was previously an engineer at the BBC and became obsessed with delivering this magic through his innovations. We were the first brand to design speakers using computers. In 1989, we developed Uni-Q technology, which remains unrivalled. It integrates high-frequency, medium-frequency, and low-frequency locations into one single point. Think of it as dropping stones into a pond. If you drop three, their waveforms will collide. If you drop just one, its waveform will be perfect.
That’s our thinking behind Uni-Q. Over the years, we’ve improved on it, and it’s now in its 12th generation. We always keep an eye on emerging trends so that we can adapt as they do. Now with wireless technology and the evolution of streaming services, we’re always striving to be nimble and to capture what users really want and need. This is how we’re able to stand out in such a competitive industry.
HiFi speakers often have the goal of achieving perfect acoustic sound. Can the same be said for KEF?
Our goal is to create speakers that inspire listeners. We want to give them immersive sound and magical experiences of everything from live performances to movies and even RPG games. Sound performance is very important to us, but at the same time, we know that speakers are a part of your everyday life and that they occupy your living space. This is why we see timeless design and great user experiences as equally important. We’re focused on providing the perfect sound solution to our listeners, from unboxing the speakers to setting the functions, all the way to actual use.
Sound is a matter of taste. Is it necessary to continue investing in R&D in an era where it’s impossible to gain absolute technological competitiveness?
Users will always choose speakers based on their personal preferences, but that won’t stop us from studying sound. Our mission is to connect creators and listeners, so we will always strive to find the most accurate way to convey creators’ voices. Our Metamaterial Absorption Technology, or MAT™, is a symbol of innovation. It absorbs 99% of unwanted sound from behind the speaker through the new concept of metamaterial. I know that it sounds like a clever marketing technique at first, but I recommend that you listen and experience it for yourself so that you can understand its true value.
Ross Lovegrove designed MUON, the ultra-high-priced speaker in 2007. Over a decade and a half later, it still has fantastic elegance. How much does KEF value design in the creation of its speakers?
We pursue modern designs that transcend time, but that doesn’t mean we stick to just one design language. Ross Lovegrove’s MUON is fantastic, but we also work with other incredible designers like Michael Young, Sir Terrance Conran, Eric Chan, and Marcel Wanders to sharpen our design language.
But design isn’t just about making the speakers look pretty. It’s also tied to the best sound technology. For example, subwoofers are used to emphasize low pitch. But we know that the better the output, the bigger the volume. So, we reduced the subwoofer to the size of a football with our Uni-Core technology. That gave us the same performance but in a much smaller device, allowing the aesthetic to evolve more naturally. Good design and good technology cannot be thought of as two separate things.
Moving onto something more personal: you majored in Chemical Engineering at Northwestern University and earned a Master’s Degree in Human-Centered Communication Design at the Illinois University of Technology. You also have an MBA from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. How does this multidisciplinary education help you lead?
I majored in engineering because I wanted to understand how things work. I have always been fascinated with science. I studied design because I wanted to create solutions for people. I felt that I needed to understand my business to deliver more successful solutions throughout my career. Multidisciplinary education has given me a broad perspective on problem-solving. Business can be very complicated. It requires knowledge ranging from logical to analytical skills, as well as an ability to identify and design human-centred systems and cope with the dynamics of the market and competition. Learning about different fields has been my basis for working effectively with different teams within the business.
Your father, Victor Lo, is a renowned Hong Kong entrepreneur. Do you feel any pressure because of it?
I think anyone who tries to be good at something feels pressured. I take my job seriously at KEF. I’ve learned a lot from my father. He’s a great entrepreneur, especially when it comes to his work ethic. Watching him work with honour and devotion is inspiring, as is his ability to keep an open mind and stay calm whenever he’s faced with challenges.
KEF also runs a site called Sound of Life (SOL). Various forms of content are published on this platform centering around music and culture, but it rarely shows that it’s operated by KEF. It looks just like an independent culture webzine. Why aren’t you running SOL for profit?
We truly do believe in sharing the magic of great sound at KEF. Only audiophiles can really distinguish the more subtle sounds, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to focus on them only. We want to continue to grow our business and attract new listeners. SOL provides carefully curated content to audio beginners and those who aren’t yet familiar with KEF. It’s our way of reaching out to potential clients who are curious about music and culture. The power of social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube is very strong, but algorithms are bound to change over time. To understand people better, provide better services, and create a strong community, we need to establish a direct network of relationships. SOL gives us a platform to foster these relationships with our customers.
Not too long ago, KEF launched an NFT that embodies the process of turning noise into sound. Why did you decide to venture into the Metaverse?
The Metaverse has unlimited potential, and we truly believe in its power. We’ll continue to pay close attention to it.
Most of KEF’s sales come from the United States, Europe and China. What do other markets, like Korea, mean?
Every market is different. Korea is a very sophisticated one. There are lots of people who want a premium lifestyle and have plenty of digital knowledge. On top of this, Korea’s entertainment industry has a huge influence across the world. Consumers want high-quality products. If our presence in Korea increases, it will be good for global business.
KEF’s offline listening room is currently set up in Schederazade in Cheondam-dong. Is there a reason why you won’t open an exclusive store in Korea?
Korea has a very unique business environment. At the moment, we think it’s a better idea to work with our partners. We work closely with them to ensure that our customers have the best possible KEF experiences.
Reflecting on your life to this point, do you feel satisfied? What does the future look like for Grace Lo?
I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied just yet, but I am definitely getting more and more comfortable with myself. I want to be able to continue to grow personally. I will also always keep searching for innovative business models and solutions that can help users and make the world a more interesting place.